[Note: This is the third part of a five part series on the purposes and meanings of the Sabbath. The first two parts of this message, dealing with what is included in the doctrine of the Sabbath and some of its purposes in scripture, are located here:
Last Sabbath we looked at some of the purposes of the Sabbath, including a reminder of creation and God’s authority over creation, freedom, and God’s plan for redemption and reconciliation. Today we will take a very brief look at the plan of God as revealed in His Holy Days. We will be covering all of the Holy Days and their part of the plan briefly in one message, so please be aware that there are many more biblical verses and passages that we could cover. Indeed, several sermons could be given about the meanings of each of the Holy Days that we are discussing today. Our interest today is in the larger picture, so that all of us here are aware that God’s Holy Days have a purpose in explaining God’s plan for all humanity, which ought to encourage us all to take all of those days seriously.
The Passover & Days of Unleavened Bread
There are many places where we can find out about the festival of Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. To start, let us look at Leviticus 23:4-8, which we will be returning to throughout this message, so make sure to save your place here. Leviticus 23:4-8 reads: “These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times. On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it. But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord for seven days. The seventh day shall be a holy convocation; you shall no customary work on it.”
There are two aspects of symbolism that are particularly important to the Passover of the Mosaic covenant. Unsurprisingly, those symbols remain important in the New Covenant Passover as well, the symbols of the Passover lamb and of the unleavened bread. We read about these symbols as originally established in Exodus, so let us turn there briefly. First, let us look at Exodus 12:43-49 to examine the symbolism of the Passover lamb. Exodus 12:43-49 reads: “And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat it. But every man’s servant who is bought for money, when you have circumcised him, then he may eat it. A sojourner and a hired servant shall not eat it. In one house it shall be eaten; you shall not carry any of the flesh outside the house, nor shall you break one of its bones. All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. . For no uncircumcised person shall eat it. One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you.” What does this mean? Here we see that the lamb was to have no bones broken, and that the same law and standard was to apply for foreigners and native-born Israelites—God has the same standard for everyone. Additionally, we see that to take part in the Passover required making a commitment to God’s ways through circumcision, just as only baptized people may take part in the Passover of Christ, who was a lamb without blemish and with no bones broken killed to save us from the death angel.
Close by we also read of the symbol of unleavened bread, in Exodus 13:3-10. Exodus 13:3-10 reads: “And Moses said to the people: “Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by the strength of hand the Lord brought you out of this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten. On this day you are going out, in the month of Abib. And it shall be, when the Lord brings you into the Land of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall keep this service in this month. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days. And no leavened bread shall be seen among you, nor shall leaven be seen among you in all your quarters. And you shall tell your son in that day, saying, ‘This is done because of what the Lord did for me when I came up from Egypt.’ It shall be as a sign to you on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the Lord’s law may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt. You shall therefore keep this ordinance in its season from year to year.” Here we see that the unleavened bread is a sign of freedom for God’s people, a reminder that God has set us free from slavery to sin and oppression.
Do these symbols mean anything to us as Christians today? Let us turn to 1 Corinthians 5:6-8. Here Paul uses the same symbolism of the Passover lamb and the unleavened bread of the Days of Unleavened Bread to describe how Christians should live and behave. 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 reads: “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Here we see Paul pointing the symbols of the “Old Covenant” Passover directly to Christ and Christians, showing how we should keep God’s festivals in sincerity and truth, with an understanding of the deeper meaning behind them now.
After all, Christ added symbols to the Passover, which also have a meaning for Christians, as we find in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 reads: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” Here Paul is saying that all believers are part of one body, the body of Christ, and that each time we take the Passover bread and wine we commemorate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins, which allowed us to be forgiven and to enter into the family of God as firstfruits.
The Feast of the Firstfruits And Pentecost
During the Feast of Unleavened Bread comes the beginning of the next festival season, the Feast of the Firstfruits and Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks. We find out about this festival in Leviticus 23:9-21. Leviticus 23:9-21 reads: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. And you shall offer on that day, when you wave the sheaf, a male lamb of the first year, without blemish, as a burnt offering to the Lord. Its grain offering shall be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering made by fire to the Lord, for a sweet aroma, and its drink offering shall be of wine, one-fourth of a hin. You shall eat neither bread nor parched grain nor fresh grain until the same day that you have brought an offering to your God; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loafs of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leavening. They are the firstfruits to the Lord. And you shall offer with the bread seven lambs of the first year, without blemish, one young bull, and two rams. They shall be as a burnt offering to the Lord, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, an offering made by fire for a sweet aroma to the Lord. Then you shall sacrifice one kid of the goats as a sin offering, and two male lambs of the first year as a sacrifice of a peace offering. The priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the Lord, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. And you shall proclaim on the same day that it is a holy convocation to you. You shall do no customary work on it. It shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.’ ” ”
Let us briefly note a couple of aspects of these two festivals. The Feast of the Firstfruits was the first day of the fifty days of Pentecost. We see in the festival of the firstfruits that before any grain or any bread could be eaten, that the first of the firstfruits had to be given to God, and then the grain harvest could take place over the next fifty days, until Pentecost. At Pentecost, we note that the wave offering was two leavened loaves of bread, symbolic of our imperfect lives. At Pentecost God gave the gifts of His law to ancient Israel and the gift of the Holy Spirit to the early church, as you may read in Exodus 20 and Acts 2. Likewise, in the book of Ruth we see the grace of God in bringing a gentile believer into His holy people during the time of the Judges.
What does this have to do with Christianity? Let us turn to 1 Corinthians 15:20-25, and we will see what the festival of the firstfruits and Pentecost should remind us of. 1 Corinthians 15:20-25 reads: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.”
We see here that the firstfruits that were given to God on the first day of the week during the Days of Unleavened Bread were directly symbolic of Jesus Christ raised from the dead, who according to Paul was our firstfruits. We believers are then the harvest of the grain made after God has received the firstfruits of the harvest for Himself. Again, even the agricultural language of the Holy Days is itself a sign of the seriousness of the connection between the land and God’s actions throughout history. Once we see these connections, even the references to crops in the Bible make sense when we recognize that we are ultimately the harvest that God is most interested in gathering in.
The Feast of Trumpets
We see the next reference to the Feasts of God in Leviticus 23:23-25. Leviticus 23:23-25 reads: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Isarel, saying: ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a Sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord.’ ” ” We do not find a great deal of information about the Feast of Trumpets in the Hebrew scriptures. We find one reference to the Jews of Ezra and Nehemiah’s time reading the Law of God on that day in Nehemiah 8.
The connection between the Feast of Trumpets and the first and second coming of Jesus Christ is more clear than its role in the worship practices of ancient Israel. Indeed, many historians claim that the ancient Jews considered the Feast of Trumpets to be the beginning of the civil new year, just as the first of Abib is the beginning of the religious new year. We know, from a long chain of evidence, that Jesus Christ was born at or around the Feast of Trumpets. Let us turn to Luke 1 and see the evidence in several verses, and then put it into perspective. First, let us look at Luke 1:5. Luke 1:5 reads: “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.” Now let us look at Luke 1:23-28. Luke 1:23-28 reads: “So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazereth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” And now let us drop down to Luke 1:39-40. Luke 1:39-40 reads: “Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.”
Put together, these scriptures tell us the timing of Jesus’ conception and birth. First, according to 1 Chronicles 24:10, the course of Abijah was the eighth course of the priests. Every priest served during the three missionary feasts—Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day. So a priest of the course of Abijah would serve his normal week, then serve the next week for Pentecost, and then he could return home. After some time, probably a month or two, around mid to late July, Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist. Five to six months later, some time in December, Mary herself conceived Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit of God and traveled rapidly (since it was winter and travel in winter was dangerous) to visit her cousin and avoid gossiping neighbors for at least a few months, until the time of Passover when John the Baptist was born. Five to six months later, at the time of the Feast of Trumpets, Jesus Christ was born. Notice how closely God’s feasts are connected with the whole story.
And of course, the timing of Jesus Christ’s second coming is also closely connected to the Feast of Trumpets. Let us look at two such references briefly. First, let us look at Revelation 12:15. Revelation 12:15 reads: “Then the seventh angel sounded: and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” Let us now turn to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, talking about this same period of time, says: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” Here we see that the trumpet of God is closely connected with the return of Jesus Christ, to mark the beginning of his rulership over this earth.
The Day of Atonement
Very soon after the Feast of Trumpets comes the Day of Atonement. We read about the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 23:26-32. Leviticus 23:26-32 reads: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord Your God. For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your Sabbath.”
Here we see a few aspects of the Day of Atonement. No work at all is permitted—there is no food to prepare, and everyone is to rest and fast the whole day, not from sunrise to sunset only like the Muslims do. There were several rituals connected with this day. One of them was the fact that the High Priest was only allowed to enter the Holy of Holies on this day each year, though our High Priest in heaven, Jesus Christ, has no such limitation, having torn the veil upon His death. There is, however, one other ritual connected with the Day of Atonement that has relevance for us as Christians in pointing to the future, so let us look now at Leviticus 16:5-10. Leviticus 16:5-10 reads: “And he shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering, and one ram as a burnt offering. Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall take the two goats and present the before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats; one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness.”
So, what relevance does this ritual have for Christians today? Instead of being killed as a sacrifice for sin, as Jesus Christ was, the azazel, or scapegoat was cast out in the wilderness. We see a similar scene to this yearly ritual of old in Revelation 20:1-3. Let us turn there. Revelation 20:1-3 reads: “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.” Like the azazel goat, our great enemy Satan will be bound for a thousand years left alive while mankind lives in peace and harmony during the reign of Jesus Christ on earth before the final judgment.
The Feast of Tabernacles And The Eighth Day
We read about the last two festivals of God in Leviticus 23:33-44. Leviticus 23:33-44 reads: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the Lord. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it. For seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. It is a sacred assembly, and you shall do no customary work on it. These are the feasts of the Lord which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire to the Lord, a burnt offering and a rain offering, a sacrifice and drink offerings, everything on its day—besides the Sabbaths of the Lord, besides your gifts, besides all your vows, and besides all your freewill offerings which you give to the Lord. Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the Lord for seven days; on the first day there shall be a Sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a Sabbath-rest. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for even days. You shall keep it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.’ “ So Moses declared to the children of Israel the feasts of the Lord.”
This section of scripture talks about two festivals of God. The first, which lasts a week long, is the Feast of Tabernacles, and the second is the eighth day. The first is discussed often in scripture and the second has a meaning that was probably very vague and shadowy to the people of Israel. We know, for example, of a water ritual that took place on the “Last Great Day” of the Feast of Tabernacles. Nonetheless, the meaning and symbolism of the Feast of Tabernacles for ancient Israel was very clear. Israel was to live in booths as a reminder that they were pilgrims and sojourners on this earth, and that the true citizenship of any believer lies elsewhere other than the kingdoms of this world. Even as we fulfill our obligations here and now, we need to be reminded that our ultimate destiny and reward belong in the Jerusalem that is above and not in our present corrupt societies.
So what relevance do the Feast of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day have for us as Christians? Let us first look at the Feast of Tabernacles. First, let us turn to Zechariah 14:16-19. Zechariah 14:16-19 reminds us that the Feast of Tabernacles, like the rest of God’s feasts, are not only for Jews but are for all people. It reads: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came up against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth does not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, on them there will be no rain. If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter it, they shall have no rain; they shall receive the plague with which the Lord strikes the nations who do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. This shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.” Again, these verses are clear, that the entire earth will be expected to attend the Feast of Tabernacles.
And why is this the case? Let us find out in Isaiah 2:2-4. In our last message we read what Micah had to say about the reign of Jesus Christ. Now let us read what it says in Isaiah 2:2-4: “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Here we see that the reason why God will require all nations to attend the Feast of Tabernacle is for all to learn his ways, to live in peace, and to accept His authority over all the earth. For far too long mankind has rebelled against His ways, and that will not be tolerated forever.
Finally, what relevance does the Eighth Day have for us as Christians? The Eighth Day is important for Christians for two fundamental reasons. The first is as an picture of the resurrection of all flesh for the final judgment, and the second is as a picture of what follows the judgment, the new heavens and new earth. Fortunately for us, both of those aspects of the Eighth Day can be found in one section of scripture, so let us turn to this section of scripture as our last Bible passage for today, Revelation 20:11-21:5. Revelation 20:11-21:5 reads as follows: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place from them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth., for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” This is the end of human history—an eternity with God in the New Jerusalem for those who repent and obey God and whose names are written in the Book of Life.
Now, in conclusion, let us briefly review the holy days of God so that we understand how they fit together as part of God’s plan. First, we have the Passover, which points backward to Jesus Christ’s sacrifice as our perfect Passover lamb, freeing us from slavery to sin in spiritual Egypt. Freed from sin, we then cast out the leavening of malice and wickedness and celebrate the Days of Unleavened Bread with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Then, on the first day of the week during the Days of Unleavened Bread, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Firstfruits, and the opening of the harvest of the faithful. We start counting fifty days from that point until we reach Pentecost, where we celebrate the gift of God’s law and God’s Holy Spirit that God has given us so that we can walk in His ways. We have now celebrated the spring and summer harvests. After the summer come the fall festivals. First is the Feast of Trumpets, which celebrates both the first and second comings of Jesus Christ, first as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world and second as Lord of Lord and King of Kings to establish His Kingdom. Next we celebrate the Day of Atonement, with its themes of reconciliation between God and mankind and the removal of sin. After this comes the Feast of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day, which symbolize the reign of Jesus Christ on this earth for a thousand years over all the earth and then the final judgment and an eternity spent with God in His Family that is open to all mankind. May we be fortunate enough to enter that rest.